Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Townes Van Zandt - "Rake"

I covered my lovers with flowers and wounds

One of Townes Van Zandt's greatest of many many great moments? Impossible to say. There are so many classics in his almost peerless catalogue.

But playing Steve Earle's remarkable new reinterpretation of this classic track over and over and over this past week - less ostensibly mournful and a little more revved up perhaps, yet also, strangely, at the same time gloriously sparser than Townes' original - we'll say maybe it is!

However, tomorrow it'll probably be another one!

Beautiful poetry. Magical music. A superb performance. A
pristine piece of perfect art.

A true classic. If not only for the superb unforgettable line "except for the turning of night into day and the turning of day into cursing'"! You don't even dare hear magic like that in a Dylan song !!

For years and years now, I've been in awe of the sculpted lyrics and sublime music of Townes (although the one time I was lucky enough to him live, he was even more drunk than Shane MacGowan at a Bachelor Party! - and the performance was ... erm ... idiosyncratic
!) And here again, in "Rake", from the 1971 album Delta Momma Blues, the sculpted lyrics and sublime music magnificently mesh.

A one-time ladies man, and lover of excess, uselessly and torturously harks back to a blighted youth wasted on frivolous excess, as he lays close to death's door. He even imagines the grim reaper speaking to him, poetically telling of his imminent fate ... "It's the night to the day that we're a bindin."

Death is almost here. But what's even worse is there will be no hoped-for redemption even though he'd always "thought I'd be forgiven."

In fact, this song could be called "Death of a Ladies Man"! (maybe Lenny was listening to this track when he felt inspired to come up with that great title!)

It's probably a death he welcomes in order to finally soothe his agonising pain and put a final end to his countless regrets - the vast expanse of time wasted on "wine and guitars" and "women he can't hardly stand", and the pain he inflicted on numerous people (as beautifully expressed in the line "I covered my lovers with flowers and wounds.")

It's almost like an Old Testament parable. A powerful and timeless tale.

The lyrics are spiked throughout with Townes' trademark melancholia. A melancholia that emanated from Van Zandt's pained troubled soul. An essential and undeniable part of his essence, of his songwriting. Never maudlin though. Never false. On the contrary, immensely powerful and impactful.

A melancholia of the type described by John Donne (in "Farewell to Love") that "leaves behind a kind of sorrowing dulnesse to the minde."

A type that also tortured other great musical artists such as, say, Nick Drake, Kurt Cobain and Elliot Smith. And to a lesser extent great artists like Shane Mac Gowan, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits. All songwriters compelled to express their inner pain through art, in order to thereby attain some little relief. All songwriters whose work is laden with what Federico García Lorca called Duende - true soul, raw inherent sadness, a heightened awareness of death. An inherent quality of music art that is most obviously found in, for example, the old traditional music of Portugal and in ancient Irish traditional music - particularly in the "Sean Nos" keening songs.

Lorca in "Play and Theory of the Duende" wrote; "The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, 'The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.' Meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation."

He also wrote "This ‘mysterious power which everyone senses and no philosopher explains' is, in sum, the spirit of the earth, the same duende that scorched the heart of Nietzsche, who searched in vain for its external forms on the Rialto Bridge and in the music of Bizet, without knowing that the duende he was pursuing had leaped straight from the Greek mysteries to the dancers of Cadiz or the beheaded, Dionysian scream of Silverio's siguiriya ....... Duende brings to old planes unknown feelings of freshness, with the quality of something newly created, like a miracle, and it produces an almost religious enthusiasm."

Nick Cave speaking about duende in his lecture on the nature of the love song (Vienna, 1999): said "...All in all it would appear that duende is too fragile to survive the brutality of technology and the ever increasing acceleration of the music industry. Perhaps there is just no money in sadness, no dollars in duende. Sadness or duende needs space to breathe. Melancholy hates haste and floats in silence. It must be handled with care."

The music of Townes has duende in spades. It climbs up from deep inside, from the soles of his feet. This great song "Rake" is overflowing with it. A song that hates haste and floats in silence. A song full of true style, of blood; a song harking back to ancient culture, to timeless art.

I used to wake and run with the moon
I lived like a rake and a young man
I covered my lovers with flowers and wounds
my laughter the devil would frighten
The sun would come up and beat me back down
but every cruel day had its nightfall
I'd welcome the stars with wine and guitars
full of fire and forgetful

My body was sharp, the dark air clean
and outrage my joyful companion
whisperin' women how sweet they did seem
kneelin' for me to command them
And time was like water, but I was the sea
And I'd never noticed it passin'
except for the turnin' of night into day
and the turnin' of day into cursin'

You look at me now, and don't think I don't know
what all of your eyes are a sayin'
Does he want us to believe these ravings and lies
they're just tricks that his brains been a playin'?
A lover of women he can't hardly stand,
he trembles, he's bent and he's broken
I've fallen, it's true, but I say unto you
hold your tongues until after I've spoken

I was takin' my pride in the pleasures I'd known
I laughed and thought I'd be forgiven
but my laughter turned 'round, eyes blazing and
said "my friend, we're holdin' a wedding"
I buried my face but it spoke once again
It's the night to the day that we're a bindin'
and now the dark air is like fire on my skin
and even the moonlight is blinding

Townes van Zandt - Rake (A Private Concert)

A rare vid of the great man performing this classic. A private performance from the Holiday Inn - yap, the Holiday Inn! (we've no idea why, either!) - in Houston back in 1988.

Townes van Zandt - Rake

A lovely vid made by mccrabapple ;

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